Align Values with Outcomes: Interview with Christian Smith, President and Co-Founder of TrackR

Christian Smith, President and Co-Founder of TrackR

Have you ever lost your keys? TrackR solves that problem for you by keeping track of the items that are important to you– and it’s one of the fastest growing companies in America. Christian Smith, President and Co-Founder of TrackR, joins The Best Team Wins Podcast to discuss hiring, management, and more.


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Adam Robinson: Welcome to The Best Team Wins podcast where we’re featuring entrepreneurs and business leaders who’s exceptional approach to the people side of their business has led to incredible results. My name is Adam Robinson and for the next 25 minutes I’ll be your host as we explore how to build your business through better hiring.


Today, on the program, Christian Smith is the president and co-founder of TrackR. TrackR was founded in 2009 as a hyper [inaudible 00:00:40] venture back business based out of Santa Barbara, California. It currently has 110 employees. TrackR recently closed a 50 million dollar series B, led by Revolution Growth and if that were not enough, they were also number 45 on last year’s Ink 500 list of safest run private companies in the US.


Christian, welcome to the program.


Christian Smith: Adam, thanks so much for having me.


Adam Robinson: We are here today to focus on the people side of your business but before we dive in, set the stage for us. Give us 30 seconds on TrackR and what you do.


Christian Smith: Sure. That concept behind TrackR came out of a personal experience that my co-founder and I had. We were both engineers in college together and we loved surfing so we’d often go on surf trips during the weekend. On weekend, we went up to a place called Pismo Beach and we parked his car in the sand, went out and had a surf and when we came back, we were mortified to realize the car was parked below the high tide line.


Adam Robinson: Oh no.


Christian Smith: If we didn’t get moved soon, it was going to get washed away into the Pacific Ocean. We frantically ripped the car apart, searching for the keys, couldn’t find it anywhere. Fortunately we were thinking heads up and we ran down the beach looking for help.


A man with a metal detector happened to be on the beach and my co-founder was able to convince him to come over and help us find the key. We ended up finding the key that had fallen in the sand right as the water was lapping the front tires. We were able to get the car moved off the beach but that was this kind of “Ah ha,” moment that we realized, why. Why did that happen. People lose things because they memorize where all of these little things are and because we just didn’t have a memory of that, where the key was, we had a tremendous panic.


We experienced a really extreme manifestation of a common problem that on average, people have about 16 minutes a day of searching for keys, wallets, backpacks and so we thought, how can we change that reality? We created small coin sized devices you can attach to anything and a smartphone application helps you find them so you can quickly find your keys, your wallet, whatever else you’re searching for and then if you happen to leave it behind, the app remembers where and when on a Google map you left it so that you can go back to that point and find it.


Adam Robinson: If people want to learn more about your products or your company, what’s the best place for them to do that?


Christian Smith: You can go to, that’s T, H, E, Track and the letter


Adam Robinson: They’re really beautifully designed products and congratulations on all the success. I want to dig into the early days. You and your co-founder have this experience of nearly losing the car in the beach, you decide to build this product to solve this problem, maybe more accurately. You start doing stuff, at some point that leads to meeting more people. Take us to that earliest stage when you realized it’s got to be bigger than the two of you. Talk about how you went about finding that first hire. What did that look like?


Christian Smith: Yeah, that’s a really good question. When we were two engineers in a garage, we were basically kind of building everything, doing all aspects of the business. Then when we … we saw that … when we’re starting to sell product on Amazon, after we launched, we saw that it would be helpful to get an employee that was gonna be focused on sales so that we can do the engineering and operational side.


We ended up connecting with someone who … actually, our first employee reached out to us. They were a local sales person and we were able to bring them into … kind of help us close different deals. That was a little bit non-traditional. Then we saw that, as we were kind of building things, we saw that we needed help building things.


We started … some of the first people that we brought on were iOS and Android engineers that really helped us kind of accelerate the development side of the application and the hardware. This was back when we were making the jump from writing Blackberry applications to some of the first connected iOS apps.


Adam Robinson: Oh yeah. Wow. Amazing how things change in just a few short years. I want to talk about that first sales hire. One of the things that I often say and has been my experience is, your best people aren’t found, they find you. They opt in because they believe so strongly in what you’re doing, they feel compelled to reach out and say I’d like to work for you.


Part of that’s brand, as an employer and part of that’s just how what you do or make resonates with them. Did this individual truly, was out of your network and just found what you were doing and said I need to work here?


Christian Smith: The context around that was, we launched at a conference called Demo in 2010 and we ended up winning the consumer category. We just had a really great demonstration of the product working and were able to kind of tell this bigger story. We won that award and this … our first sales guys ended up seeing what we were doing and had been kind of interested in doing something similar.


There was this shared interest and he had been kind of talking to some other partners about these types of solutions that we were creating. It was a very, a really great match and it ended up that he was about 15 minutes away from our office. Proximity was big factor that really helped us out.


Adam Robinson: That’s excellent. From there, fast forward to today, you got 110 employees. How has the process of selecting people for your business change from the days of finding folks that could write Blackberry apps to today. Is this more rigorous, less rigorous, more of a network things, less of a network thing. What’s the current state? How do you find the people?


Christian Smith: Yeah, I think hiring along the path, it’s kind of changed pretty dramatically. From really manual processes early on where there’s a heavy time investment to interviewing everyone and making sure that they’re a culture match to a good in between hiring platform for us was AngelList, when we were growing from 10 to 30, finding people that were really interested and excited about entrepreneurship and startups was really perfect for that audience that was on AngelList.


Now, we’ve kind of evolved into a little bit … added more structure and starting to work with different outsource agencies to kind of help do some hiring. There’s some different recruiters that we’ve worked with to make sure that we find the exact right person to fill a seat. Really, that’s kind of based on the concept that comes out of a book called Traction, by Gino Wickman.


Traction introduces this paradigm that you have two different buckets that you’re evaluating every single person in an organization. The first bucket, is it the right person? This person … it’s a personality culture match and the second is, is that person sitting in the right seat? The seat is defined by their role, their desire to fill that role. Do they get it? Do they want to do that role and are they … do they get it, do they want it, are they capable.


Starting to kind of separate out, first the culture match side, personality and fit versus the looking at the how that human fills a certain role. Sometimes you’ll have the right person but then the wrong seat. Where that person, it wouldn’t be able to grow enough in that position for it would be … they would be … they might have difficulty with certain aspects of the role. Then it kind of breeds the question, do we shift the role around to fit that person and then shift some of the other responsibilities out. It’s just been a really useful paradigm for processing how to design the roles and responsibility structure that everyone’s performing at the company.


Adam Robinson: Yeah, that’s great. Our regular listeners will be smiling at that comment because they know that hireology is itself an EOS attraction business and we launched the business using that tool, using the VTO from day one. It’s been an amazing way to run the business it certainly governs the people side of the business pretty well.


Excited to hear that. That’s great to hear. It’s always fun to meet a fellow Traction tech company. There aren’t that many at scale out there so pretty cool. Maybe offline we’ll talk more about it. That kind of result is not uncommon.


When you talk about right person, right seat in this notion of get it, want it, capacity to do it, how is that govern your decisions about existing team members. You mentioned, right person, wrong seat. What happens when you have someone who’s in the right seat and they’ve got the technical skill but they just don’t fit the overall team? What’s been your approach to handling that and has that changed over time?


Christian Smith: Yeah, I think that the kind of high level way that I process this is, I’m imaging that we find ourself today at time zero. We have this moment in time and as an enterprise, we’re trying to get to point B, which is … we’ve kind of have used EOS to … the entrepreneur operating system to define what’s that end goal, what’s that big vision that we want to get to.


Then, we kind of filled in different metrics of success. One metric for of success for me was, when we were starting the company, it was the two of us in a garage. I was moved to tears when I realized we’re gonna hire about 100 people to … when this operation scales up and what is the impact that … what is the momentum that we want to create that we impact that number 100. The number 100 was significant because it was at a point where it would be someone who would be non-technical. Their job was to coordinate facilities and to create an atmosphere. Like an office manager or kind of person.


I don’t know if you heard the story about JFK, who, when he was walking through, I think it was Lockheed Martin, he asked the janitor who was rolling his cart through the hall, what do you do? He said, “I put men on the moon.” It was one of those stories where, wow, yes he does. He keeps everyone focused on their job by keeping eh environment clean so that they can do their best work.


When I realized, okay we got this big point B that we want to get to and what’s the impact that we want to make on our office managers life. Well, it’s pretty clear you can … you have your whole stock table, what’s your share price worth and what’s that point B, that exit event that you want to get to and how do we have a life changing impact on that, on the janitor or the office manager.


That’s this trajectory that we find ourselves on and a long that pathway, I see that we’re connecting people with their highest potential and that’s kind of the journey that we all find ourselves on and there are some people that will be able to come with us from today, where we’re at, all the way to point B. There are some people that, their paths might be different and it might be better for them to be somewhere else or to go somewhere else, learn and then come back.


I think of that type of onboarding and off boarding that’s relatively fluid and as a corporation, we have a very clear trajectory and then when someone else’s values or role changes within that, then I just want to make sure that, as a manager, that I’m connecting them to their highest potential. Whether that’s in the organization or out of it.


By sticking to our values and I think it’s … that creates a really healthy context to have that conversation.


Adam Robinson: You just mentioned values. Let’s talk about the value system in TrackR. Could you walk us through one or more of the core values that you use to define the business and the culture there?


Christian Smith: Yeah, I think that the first value that we have is really being, making data driven decisions. Taking in all of the information before forming a hypothesis, I think is so important. That allows us to approach complex situations and solve them with information and rather than jumping to an emotional decision, just get really curious about the data.


That’s something I think that helps drive a really healthy decision making process. Another thing, we believe in having people that are really passionate about the company. This is something that we kind of look for, people who are really passionate about their life and their work and … We want people who … I guess the value that we have around the office is we want people to give a damn. If you don’t, if you tend to be more apathetic then probably not the culture fit.


Adam Robinson: That’s great. Does that … I guess walk us through how that translates into daily practice. Either on the hiring front, the promotion and training front or even potentially how you work with your customers.


Christian Smith: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah so I think that for each area of the business, each different department from customer support to engineering is … you can apply those different values in different ways. A customer support rep who’s data driven and is different than an engineer who’s data driven. Very technical analysis versus qualitative analysis.


The department leaders are really good at exposing that information through questions and really understanding how people are using … how people are taking in information and using that as a hiring filter has been really powerful to fill the culture around that value.


For the passion side of things, that’s … that means we’re hiring people that are going to express their opinions. They’re going to have beliefs. That means it’s not really … decision making processes tend not to be really passive. That’s something that culturally, I think is really important to understand when choosing values is there’s going to be things that are really positive about that value but then there’s also going to be a flip side. If everybody in the room is really passionate about a decision, then there’s gonna be some push back and arguing and expression and emotion, which we see as really positive.


Then its also important to then look at the data. Coupling those two value for us was very, very critical in order to make those conversations work. Values can’t function independently and if they do, it tends to kind of … I think it would tend to create a skewed culture where the other values aren’t balancing them out.


Adam Robinson: Over the last eight years of your experience in building that team at TrackR, is there one overall governing philosophy as it pertains to your approach to talent and the people side of the business that you subscribe to?


Christian Smith: Personally, when I wake up in the morning, I’m excited to connect. My goal is to see 1,000 people connect with their dreams. For me, it’s really clear. Does that person’s desire for the future and their ambition, is that something that we can align on and harness toward a certain direction that we need in order to run this organization. It has been a really good filter to understand, does this person fit or are they really excited actually about something else.


That philosophy has been one that stuck with me through the years.


Adam Robinson: Final couple of questions here as we round out our time together. What book are you reading right now and would you recommend it our listeners?


Christian Smith: Lets see, the last book that I just finished is called Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin and I think it’s really … it’s been fantastic to just learn more about how do Navy Seals approach planning to ensure success on missions. There are a lot of applications that are, I think, really great tactics to apply to what we’re doing as a team. Also, it’s really helpful framework for me to approach leadership while leading a team and just understanding that I’m going to, at the end of the day, I’m gonna take responsibility for whatever happens and if there are failures then they’re failures of leadership.


That approach really creates a structure where everybody else can do their best work.


Adam Robinson: If you were able to come back on this show a year from now and report on whether or not you successfully tackled the single biggest people related opportunity that you have in front of you in the business today, what would you be telling us happened?


Christian Smith: That focus is key and so keeping my role at the company is really to set and focus on the vision. Make sure that point out in space that we’re all driving and working so hard to is one really clear, and two, we have a … we’re executing on a plan to get there.


Yeah, I would say that the most important part is just making sure that that’s happening. There a bunch of tactical things that we’ll be experimenting with over the next year to make sure that that’s happening. I would like to say that we were very successful with those things.


Adam Robinson: That’s the final word. Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve been learning form Christian Smith, president and co-founder of TrackR. Christian, thank you for being with us on the program.


Christian Smith: Thanks Adam. Take care.


Adam Robinson: That’s a wrap. Thanks for listening to this weeks episode of The Best Team Wins podcast, where we’re featuring entrepreneurs whose exception approach to the people side of their business has led to incredible results. My name is Adam Robinson and I am looking forward to seeing everybody next week. Check out the book, for more tips and tricks and stories like the experiences that Christian just shared with us. Thanks so much for listening and we’ll see you next week.